Wednesday, October 29, 2014
The Wet Nurse of the Animal World
All my articles in Re:Decatur thus far have had some tie to the Decatur area, but considering this post is about slavery, it is better that I had trouble finding a connection! However, when speaking with some Millikin students and Mel and Sue Weinstein of the Decatur Vegetarian Society, the idea formed for a comparison between the slavery of wet nurses from the 1800s and dairy cows today. Thus, my link to the Decatur community is the local citizens who helped bring this article to fruition by talking with me! Thankfully, I could find no data on factory farmed dairy cows in Macon County, so there is no connection in that regard. (Pigs and beef cattle are another story).
What We Were Not Taught
Most of us were taught the basics in school of how Africans were brought to America and enslaved. However, the subject of wet nurses most likely was not mentioned in textbooks or in school because it involves parts of anatomy that are considered private. The truth is that some African-American women were purchased by slave owners because they looked healthy and were fertile. They were bought, separated from their families, and then forced to become pregnant so that their breasts would produce milk. These women were known as wet nurses, and they would nurse the slave owner’s babies, so the slave owner’s wife was freed from that task.
The poor slave woman was torn away from her family when she was purchased and kept from her own baby to nurse another woman’s child. One of the results of nursing the slave owner’s baby is that the slave woman’s own baby did not get her enriching breast milk, nor could she raise and enjoy her own children.
Former slave Katie Jacobs told of being a wet nurse, and said she was forced to sleep on the floor of the dining-room near the bedroom door to be at hand in case the slave owner’s baby wanted another drink of milk. Of course, the slave owners claimed that these women were treated well!
Awaken Our Buried Morals
Hopefully, living in the 21st century, we find these mental images of slavery appalling. This history is embarrassing, filled by racist mistreatment and ignorance. Our morals have evolved to find slavery unacceptable, but these morals are only extended toward the human species. We categorize animals as “property” and “stock” which robs them of any moral consideration.
Now that we have discussed the wet nurse in the 1800s, let us compare the similarities of the life of the dairy cow on most large farms in the United States. Farmers purchase cows, making sure they have the ability to reproduce, take them away from their families, and then force them to become pregnant solely to produce milk. Even on small farms and so called “humane” farms a practice is becoming more common in which nose rings with spikes are inserted in calves so they cannot nurse from their own mothers. Thus, even if the babies are not taken away, they are being punished for trying to do as nature intended. The dairy cows are not seen as beings with lives, but only as property and profit. On large factory farms, one day old babies are taken away from the dairy cow so mother’s milk will go to humans, and her baby is fed formula. The mother cow mourns and cries, but it does no good as no one cares about her life. Three times a day she is milked, hooked up to a machine, and her udder has been genetically altered to hold up to 20 times the milk that udders used to hold before the advent of factory farming. She is given hormones and antibiotics to fight the infections that are commonly in her teats and her foot from all the weight of her udder. And the farmers claim the cows are treated well! When she is too worn out, because all her energy in her body has been used to produce milk, she is sent to slaughter.
The stories of the wet nurse and of the factory farmed dairy cow are nearly interchangeable. Why do we not feel outraged at our treatment of dairy cows? It is slavery, but it is not even seen as animal abuse. Our culture’s lack of respect for animals is shameful.
It is shocking to learn about the wet nurses of the 1800s, and I wanted to tell their story, even though my purpose is to highlight animal rights. The idea for comparing our past treatment of humans to our present treatment of animals developed and felt right to tell in this manner.
Causing pain and ripping apart animals’ families is an accepted, every day practice on our farms in America. Legislation to improve conditions for farm animals, such as giving them one inch more space, will take years, and laws of this nature are often rescinded. The only way to win against these huge businesses is to stop using dairy all together.